Seeking to stem the violence in Syria, the United States and other key allies are considering providing Syrian rebels with communications help, medical aid and other “non-lethal” assistance.
President Barack Obama discussed the potential aid options on Sunday in a lengthy private meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Both leaders are in Seoul, South Korea for a nuclear security summit.
Turkey has been a key U.S. partner in international efforts to quell violence in neighboring Syria and push President Bashar Assad to leave power. The United Nations estimates 8,000 people — many civilian protesters — have been killed in year-long clashes between forces loyal to Assad and opposition fighters.
Both leaders agreed that that a “Friends of Syria” group meeting on April 1 should seek to provide such aid and medical supplies, said U.S. deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.
“It’s important to the opposition as they’re formulating their vision of an inclusive and democratic Syria to have the ability to communicate,” Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama.
In the talks with Erdogan, Obama said the United States and Turkey agreed that “there should be a process” of transition to a “legitimate government” in Syria.
Erdogan noted that 17,000 refugees had fled to Turkey from Syria and said “we cannot be spectators” to the humanitarian crisis sparked by the crackdown on rebel groups that has killed more than 9,000 people, according to monitors.
However the Obama administration appears to fear that any weapons sent to Syria would be at risk of falling into the wrong hands, and does not appear to have confidence in rebel groups or a clear picture of their makeup.
Washington has also ruled out unilateral military action in Syria, and says there is no coalition favoring multilateral action like that which ousted Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi last year.
Obama and Erdogan met for an hour and forty-five minutes in South Korea, as fighting escalated in Syria, with blasts rocking the flashpoint city of Homs.
Rebels meanwhile attacked a military base in Damascus province, activists and monitors said.
As the year-old conflict showed no signs of abating, rebel fighters set up a military council to unify their ranks and political opposition leaders called a meeting of all dissident groups to forge common objectives.
The latest violence came as U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was in Moscow to seek the vital backing of Russia, a key ally of the Syrian regime, for his plan to end the bloodshed.
There are growing signs that Moscow is beginning to lose patience with Assad, despite his commitment to massive new Russian arms purchases and the granting of key naval access to the Mediterranean.